Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly a pleasure to be here with you today. One of my earliest actions when I joined the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs was to sign the statement of support that formally brought the United States on as a member of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. The decision to join GGGI was an easy one because we share the organization’s deep commitment to protecting and preserving our marine environment and the livelihoods of those who depend upon it.
We’ve been partners in combatting ghost gear since 2016, when the State Department awarded over $1.5 million in grants to Ocean Conservancy, GGGI’s parent organization, to support their work in combatting marine debris, including ghost gear.
That grant supported the implementation of best practices for fishing gear management to reduce ghost gear in the Caribbean region in 2017. This included working with local fishing communities to develop processes for the recovery of deployed fishing gear prior to extreme weather events, explore innovative gear designs to limit the potential of ghost fishing when gear is lost, and employ proper gear marking.
The United States led efforts to draft the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines on Marking of Fishing Gear, which were adopted in 2018. We also endorsed the creation of a new FAO Global Capacity Development Programme, that will support projects mitigating damage from ghost gear. GGGI serves as an integral civil society partner of FAO in promoting the implementation of these gear making guidelines.
The State Department also awarded Ocean Conservancy a nearly $1 million grant to assist Vietnam in its effort to address marine debris. This grant supports activities like the generation of local data on riverine pathways of plastic waste, and developing novel ways to finance the informal waste management sector. Ocean Conservancy recently finalized a report on Vietnam’s informal waste sector as part of this grant.
The United States has advanced mandatory gear marking for certain gear and lost gear reporting measures. For example, at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas we supported the adoption of a binding measure to combat and report ghost gear in 2019, and at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission we ensured the adoption of fish aggregating device (FAD) marking and data collection measures.
Certainly, gear-marking guidelines and regulations should be a central pillar of all responsible fisheries management operations. Gear marking aids in source identification, and when marking includes real-time positioning information it supports gear retrieval and remote sensing analysis. Indeed, gear-marking implementation should incorporate development of a management system, and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that are integrated into fishery management regimes across Regional Fisheries Management Organizations.
Much of the benefit of this type of work will be lost if the global community does not work to ensure all countries are fishing responsibly. Science-based, robust fishery management is necessary to protect marine ecosystems and can limit the proliferation of ghost gear. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is sometimes associated with ghost gear, is among the greatest threats to the sustainable use of our shared ocean resources. For example, the FAO reports that IUU fishing vessels sometimes dump fishing gear when patrol vessels are nearby, and vessels participating in IUU fishing are less likely to report gear that may have been lost incidentally.
We strongly encourage all nations to join us in combatting IUU fishing and initiatives to combat ghost gear. As Secretary Pompeo has noted, the People’s Republic of China has an, “unfortunate record of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, rule-breaking, and willful environmental degradation, [and] it is more important than ever that the international community stands together for the rule of law and insists on better environmental stewardship from Beijing.”
The United States has worked extensively with fisheries and ocean ecosystem management authorities around the world to address the management of fishing gear by their fleets and we applaud those who are taking steps to ensure responsible use of marine environments. In particular, the United States has worked with Taiwan in this area. The island established its marine debris action plan in 2018 and has taken tangible steps to be a responsible international steward of natural resources. Taiwan also actively invests in innovations via mechanisms such as the U.S.-initiated APEC Marine Debris Management and Innovation Sub-fund, which seeks to stop the flow of marine debris at its source. Taiwan serves as a great regional case study of what can be done right when addressing marine debris and developing waste management systems.
The United States recognizes that ghost gear has a significant impact on marine ecosystems, human health, and livelihoods, and we take a whole-of-government approach to being responsible stewards of marine resources. We encourage all other fishing nations to join us in supporting GGGI’s efforts and to implement the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on Marking of Fishing Gear.
Again, thank you to GGGI and Ocean Conservancy for organizing this important event and for the invaluable work all of today’s panelists are doing to combat ghost gear and protect our ocean. I look forward to continued collaboration with you all to improve marine ecosystem health and maritime safety worldwide. Thank you.